Community Media Education Society




 Community TV in Nepal

by Catherine Edwards 


Ratna Cable TV arose spontaneously from the efforts of Mahesh and Bouddha Shakya and the VCR and TV repair shop they have operated for many years in Tansen, a town in the lower Himalayas. In the early l990s, the Shakyas started downloading foreign programming from satellites and cabling together the houses of their neighbours to share the signal. In the absence of formal legislation concerning cable distribution of satellite signals, many cable "companies", if they can be called that, began to do the same thing all over Nepal. Some, as they grew, began to operate as commercial enterprises and charge subscription fees. A few have considered the idea of using the cable network to distribute locally produced programming, but Ratna Cable TV is the only one that has actually done so on a regular basis.

Space Time, a large Kathmandu based commerical cable company, opened a Tansen office last year offering more channels than Ratna and charging subscription fees. To protect its existing network and the principle of local programming, Ratna invested heavily in new decoders to keep pace with Space Time. Ratna began charging its subscribers for the first time to pay for them. By 1999. Ratna Cable offered its viewers 13 channels compared to Space Time's 18, but most viewers remained loyal to Ratna because they liked Ratna's Saturday local program (called, what else: The Local Program). Space Time's Tansen agent, frustrated at this situation, collected video clips from The Local Program and edited them out of context to make them look as if Ratna was a supporter of Nepal's United Marxist Leninist Party. Maoist guerrillas have been involved in violent incidents in Western Nepal for several years, and this was enough to cause Nepal's Ministry of Information and Communications to fine Ratna 7000 rupees and to suspend their licence. Mahesh was also threatened with imprisonment. Thanks to Ratna's local protectors, Mahesh avoided prison and Ratna was able to start up again under the new name of Shrinagar Cable last August, but their position remains precarious.

Nepal itself has only been a democracy since 1991, so the story of Ratna Cable is one of a country learning what democracy means. Until a fair and universal licencing system exists for regional television in the country, it will be impossible for TV journalists to exercise their right of freedom of expression. In fact, what I found most interesting in my training sessions with Shrinagar's volunteers is that they had difficulty with the basic idea of what it means to "have a voice". Their stories, while beautiful and creatively shot, tended to be light on message. I determined early-on that where they needed most work was in scriptwriting. But when I stood in front of their nine attentive faces and asked them what they were personally interested in researching and what they thought their neighbours might want to hear about, they had difficulty coming up with ideas! Unlike their North American counterparts, who in my experience all seem to walk into access centres with their own personal axe to grind (that's why they come), these shy self-deprecating people had trouble knowing what they wanted to say. They would come up with a general idea like "a story about handicapped people", but it was hard work to get them to the point that they could figure out what angle to take.

Shrinagar is located in an extremely beautiful area of Nepal, a half-day's journey from popular trekking startpoints. The staff welcomes visitors, especially visitors bearing spare parts or cast-off equipment! (They currently have two PAL S-VHS players, a couple of PAL S-VHS cameras, and an Amiga 1200 that was donated to them to do graphics last year. If you are interested in assisting Shrinagar Cable, please get in touch with [email protected] or edwardscatherine




The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) : its impact on communities

by Allan Macgillivray

Imagine a community without libraries, where clients can only purchase services from foreign owned information companies; where any government that seeks to foster cultural activities can be challenged and penalized for unfair trading practices. For those concerned about the public space, as a non-commercial basis for community, this could be part of a worst-case scenario. Yet the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) an agreement administered by the WTO seeks to do exactly this. Under its "national treatment" clause the GATS allows for trans-national corporations to challenge any government's spending in the service sectors as an unfair subsidy, and demand equal funding.

These topics were discussed in April when the British Columbia Library Association held its Annual Information Policy Committee Conference. This year's theme was Globalization, Media, and Cultural Diversity. The presentations covered international trade & copyright agreements, and included reports from various library associations' delegates to the WTO Third Ministerial Conference in Seattle.

Amongst other rallies and teach-ins these delegates were part of an international NGO contingent that was granted a special session of the WTO to express concerns over globalization. This proved to be a pointless exercise as corporate trade and lobby groups qualified as NGO's and proceeded to sing the praises of the WTO, leaving little time on the agenda for dissenting voices. To many attendees it was apparent that the WTO had merely staged the event as a "democratic smoke screen". If the library associations' delegates had been adequately heard their main concern would have been about the GATS.

The GATS seeks to liberalize trade in 160 service sectors. These include libraries, educational institutions, and health care services. It is anticipated that under "national treatment", foreign corporations can come into the Canadian market and challenge government spending in these areas. To avoid this, governments would have to cut funding and we would be in a position of de facto privatization.

Although the WTO was unable to agree on an agenda in Seattle a tentative draft of the GATS was completed. The language of the agreement seems to allow for voluntary participation of governments with a deadline of December 15, 2000; but later in the text this is contradicted and the agreement is binding. One trade official described everything as "being on the table."

Presenters to the BCLA conference were quick to admit that library issues paled in comparison to some of the life and death issues being discussed in Seattle. It was also realized that the actions of the library community to combat the GATS would only be effective when in cooperation with other members of the public service sectors, like the education and health care communities, and others seeking to bolster the common




C.M.E.S. Intervenes on Shaw/Rogers Territory Swap


Regarding the Rogers-Shaw cable business swap, C.M.E.S. Community Media Education Society would like to intervene on behalf of the community channel.

While C.M.E.S. does not object to the exchange of business territories, we do have concerns about community programming policies at both Rogers and Shaw. Specifically we feel access to the channel is limited, so that a community group has as much chance of being represented on a commercial station as it does on the community channel.

Marcel Touchette, Chief Licensing Analyst for Western Canada and Territories, questions both Rogers and Shaw about the community channel. Rogers emphasizes that shows are of the highest quality with 13,000 hours produced annually by 1,700 volunteers. We have to ask about the quality of the volunteer experience. Do volunteers generate production or do they work under close company supervision? In other words, is this public access television?

Shaw also emphasizes quality. Viewers are consumers. The community channel will be "Shaw TV" which will take only the best of current programming and so, we ask, what is the best? The best is what attracts a high level of viewing -- exactly what a commercial broadcaster wants to attract.

There's no subterfuge in these answers. The Shaw and Rogers community channels are designed according to the best interests of Shaw and Rogers shareholders, which is good management.

The problem is that the community channel was intended to be a public service, not a business tool. "Shaw TV" should be offered in addition to a genuine community channel. That channel should be funded by a levy on basic service as it was up to two years ago.

Rogers is right in pointing out that community programming is Canadian content. The levy that goes now to support the Canadian Television Fund came at the expense of community television. It's time for that money to be shared between commercial Canadian television and Canadian community television.

We note with interest an address by Jean-Pierre Blais before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage. In particular we agreewith his mention of the "lack of access to, and limited presence of, community programming on community channels." We also recognize that problems for Quebec are problems for all of Canada.

It would be a mistake now for us to fall behind the rest of the world. Community television has been a Canadian success




Monsters Defeated at Macdonald School



Macdonald Elementary school students have inked a multi-picture deal with producer Shelley MacDonald.

The lsland of Dr. Jeckyl has been completed and is already in general release. A genre flick, the picture is a horror epic about Titanic survivors encountering a werewolf. Star Natasha Wallace overcomes the beast, played by the appropriately named Lyonel Montgomery. The show was directed by Jarvis Wallace. Character roles are ably performed by Charles Pronteau, Norman Bell, Jasmine Hilton, Leon Montgomery and Samantha Wilson in a double role both as the Old Woman and as Dr. Jeckyl. The completed production premiered May 29th on East Side Story.

Post production is complete on the second show in the package, Alien Invasion. Geoff Scott has edited another tight thrill-a- minute adventure.

Principal photography wrapped June 4th on the conclusion of the trilogy. Lensing duties were shared by Pat Harrison and Neil Every who also directed. Production design is by John R.



topOn August 21, 2000, the Commission, by majority vote, denies the application by Jan Pachul for a new low-power English-language television programming undertaking in Toronto. The proposed station would have provided a service designed for residents of an area of Toronto known as "The Beaches". The applicant's proposal, however, even as modified at the hearing, is predicated on the station's signal receiving mandatory cable carriage in portions of Metropolitan Toronto well beyond the applicant's intended service area.

(Largely due to) the apparent inconsistency between the intensely local focus of the proposed programming service and the applicant's business plan, which is predicated on mandatory cable carriage well beyond the area for which the service is intended, the Commission has denied the application.

Commissioner David McKendry: I would grant Mr. Jan Pachul a licence... His proposed station complies with the broadcasting policy set out in the Broadcasting Act. The policy states that the broadcasting system includes a community element and that programming should include community programs. I would allow BDUs to distribute Mr Pachul's service on a basis negotiated between him and a BDU...

I would require Mr. Pachul to meet his proposed Canadian CONTENT exhibition and local production percentage undertakings. In other words, I would not allow Mr. Pachul to convert his station into something other than a predominantly Canadian community station.

Commissioner Barbara Cram: Because of the increasing demand for local news and non news programming which we on the Commission hear constantly and because of the lack of harm to the broadcasting system referred to by Commissioner McKendry, my choice would have been to grant a licence to Mr. Pachul...

I believe that the issue of financial viability of any LPTV will be an issue and on the other side, the obligations which can be reasonably expected of such undertakings. In terms of financial viability, clearly an undertaking licenced in one of the most densely populated cities in the country would have the highest probability of succeeding and if it did not succeed, it may well be that LPTV in urban areas in Canada is simply not viable. I would have granted Mr. Pachul a licence.




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